A born storyteller with a flair for words, Collins breathes life into the geology, history, and interdependence of land, water, and native and introduced plants and animals. With both humor and humility, he recounts the day-to-day challenges of ranch life such as how to build a productive herd, distribute cattle evenly across a rough and rocky landscape, and establish a grazing system that allows pastures enough time to recover.
Collins intimately recounts a battle over the endangered Gila topminnow and how he and his neighbors worked with scientists, conservationists, and funding agencies to improve the ranches as well as the ecological health of the Redrock Canyon watershed.
He demonstrates that patience, resilience, and a common-sense approach to conservation and range management are what count, combined with an enduring affection for nature, its animals, and the land. Cowboy is a Verb is not a romanticized story of cowboy life on the range, rather it is a complex story of the challenging work involved with being a rancher in the twenty-first-century West.
Paperback: 312 pages $24.95 Publisher: University of Nevada Press (Nov. 6, 2019) Language: English ISBN-10: 1948908239 ISBN-13: 978-1948908238
About Richard C. Collins
Richard Collins is an award- winning author, rancher, horseman, conservationist, and scholar who has owned and operated farms and ranches on the borderlands of Southern Arizona since 1983.
He was raised on a farm/ranch near Phoenix, Arizona where he lived and worked until leaving for college. Educated at Arizona State University (BS) and the University of Arizona (MS and PhD), he competed on both rodeo teams winning regional championships. After graduation, he worked as a research biologist for the Centers for Disease Control on rural villages and farms in El Salvador and Guatemala. There he witnessed the environments of poverty, disease, and violence that are the root causes of much of the turmoil on today’s borderlands.
Since the 1980s, he has owned and operated farms and ranches in southern Arizona, including the thirteen-thousand-acre C6 Ranch located in eastern Santa Cruz County where he lives with Diane, his partner of fifty-six years. The Collins family received the 2005 Range Manager of the Year from the Society for Range Management, Arizona Section.
His 2014 book, Riding Behind the Padre: Horseback Views from Both Sides of the Border was a Best Southwest Book of the Year selection by the Pima County Library and Arizona Daily Star; also winner of the best political book of 2015 by the New Mexico-Arizona Book Awards, as well as the runner-up for the best multicultural book.
Richard C. Collins on Lacey Dun
Richard and Diane Collins with grandson Liam
Richard C. Collins
About Diane Collins
The 103rd annual Sonoita Races are dedicated to Diane Collins. It would be hard to imagine anyone who has done more for the Santa Cruz County Fair and Rodeo Association than Diane. She has been actively involved in almost every aspect of the fairgrounds for the past twenty-five years.
She and her husband, Richard, came to Sonoita in 1993 to establish the C6 Ranch. They had moved from Marana where they had been running a cotton farm. Before settling in Marana, they lived in El Salvador and Guatemala, where Richard was working for the Center for Disease Control and Diane worked as a nurse and as a liaison officer in the Guatemalan embassy.
The Collins have been active in the quarter horse racing world. They started breeding racing quarter horses in the mid 1980's . Their most successful horse was Rocky's Little Gal, who won eight races in 1993 and 1994 in AZ and CA, including a win at Sonoita .
Soon after her arrival in Sonoita, Diane became involved with the fairgrounds . "Richard was roping and we were running horses, so the fairgrounds was a natural focus for us," she explained. In 1996, she was asked to chair the Sonoita quarter horse show. "I had been to, maybe, two horse shows in my life," she said, "but I like projects." She was chairman of the show for the next four years, and served on the show committee until 2005.
Her involvement in the horse show resulted in the building of the second arena. "I remember that one year we were in the arena until midnight and it was windy and cold," she said. "We needed to have a second arena, so we got panels and dug holes, and then we had a party in the middle of the new arena."
Diane also founded the Ranch Rodeo at the fairgrounds in 2001, which she chaired for several years. In that same year, she was elected president of the Anne C. Stradling Equine Foundation, a position she held until 2011. Currently she is the vice-president of the foundation, which has given out numerous scholarships to local students, and has made several improvements to the fairgrounds.
She co-chairs the committee that created and oversees the Bowman-Stradling History Center in Pioneer Hall and is a founding member of the newly formed Santa Cruz County Fair and Rodeo Association Foundation, which is dedicated to providing funds, preserving the fairgrounds property and supporting events. Diane has also served on and co-chaired the Sonoita Race committee several times.
Diane is also partly responsible for the beautiful bronze horse that watches over the entrance to the fairgrounds. After a trip to Ruidoso and seeing the horse statues in front of the museum there, she happened to mention to sculptor Deborah Fellows that she would like to have a horse at the fairgrounds. "A couple of weeks later, Deborah called me and said, 'Diane, I have a horse for you'."
The Collins family has always been active supporters of 4-H, as well. While living in Marana, both Richard and Diane served as club leaders. "It was a family affair for us," Diane said. Their son Rich was involved in hog, horse and dog projects, winning grand champion hog one year. The Collins family has supported the Santa Cruz County 4-H auction each year.
In recognition of all her hard work for the Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds, Diane was presented with the President's Award in 1997, and was presented with a life membership in 2001. She credits her husband for his support of all her activities. "Richard has been my personal co-chair,sponsor and supporter during all of our 52 years of marriage, and has come up with many creative ideas for events and projects that I have been able to put to really good use."
2018 "Parade to the Post" at the Sonoita Races. Diane and Liam pulled by a matched set of Clydesdale horses.
Our entry into Quarter Horse racing was a stroke of good luck like finding the brands that fit our names. In 1984, a horseman had a dispersal sale because his ranch had been sold. We took home two mares with running pedigrees and bred them to a stallion named Rocky Jones . The mare named Heidis Honey Gal had a sorrel filly Diane named Rockys Lil Gal in recognition of both parents.
Most Quarter Horse races are short, between 300 and 440 yards long, and most races are won by the horse that stands quiet in the starting gate and breaks on top at the start. Rocky was like a rock in the gate and a rocket when the gate opened. Once she scampered to the lead, she refused to give it up. It was a point of pride for her to stay in front, and the one time she ran second she went off her feed and was depressed for a week. Rocky was the Arizona Champion two and three-year old for 1992 and 1993. Diane handled Rocky’s career expertly, selecting her races and managing the trainer and the jockeys who rode her. Later, when Rocky retired to the brood mare paddock, she raised a string of fine runners, all named “Gal”: Sonoran Gal, Ronas Gal, Cassidy Gal.
At the ranch in the Canelo Hills, we needed a different kind of horse; rock-footed, cold blooded, with the aptitude to work cattle. I tried to convert one race horse gelding to ranch work, but his feet were so soft that his soles dropped and he went lame. After he healed up, we sold him to a lady in Sierra Vista for a pleasure horse.
Quite by accident we found a string of ranch horses from the Dean Reeves Ranch in Eagle Butte, South Dakota. Rich and I bought the first one at a ranch horse sale in Vernon, Texas. He was a wide-bodied, bay roan 5 year old, with black iron feet and an attitude. Bird (named after his sire Sir Fancy Bird) never needed grain, never had to go to the vet, never lost a shoe or missed a day’s work, and never became friendly. Over the years we bought ten horses from Dean and most of them worked out fine. We still have two; TJ’s Blue Cowboy that Diane rides and Tuffy that my niece Leslie keeps on her Oregon farm. Another, called Roan Bar, had lots of promise as a roping horse, but died in a javelina accident. One night a herd of javelina came snuffling around the hay barn and Roan Bar leaped a six rail fence and broke an artery.
This leads me to the fact that horses are amazingly fragile creatures for all their size, strength, and speed. Their high startle reflex can put them in mortal danger. I suspect that is why many cowboy stories are elegies. The lives of horses and dogs are much shorter than ours, so they always seem to be passing away; it’s like losing your best friend over and over again.
The best all-round horse I ever had was an eight-year-old buckskin gelding the color of café latte, with a black mane and tail, and black below the knees. Stormytiptop had a supremely confident disposition; he knew his jobs and did them all well. He preferred to operate on autopilot and was insulted if I made the mistake of cueing him on a roping run. Stormy helped me win more in the roping events and horse shows than anyone past middle age should. When he passed on (another elegy), I changed my email to Stormytiptop@gmail.com. They never heard of Stormy at the GooglePlex, which just goes to show that computers don't know everything.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become less interested in horses bred and trained for arena competition and racing. What I need now depends on work to be done and the terrain I am riding over. There is little pleasure in riding a stumble-footed horse or one that jars your teeth with every step. The best ones have been raised in the environment in which they have to do their jobs. Lately, I’ve taken to buying foals just weaned off the mare and raising them in my own rock pile. Lacey Dun, the horse I now ride glides over the rugged canyon country of the Canelo Hills as if we were on the moving sidewalk at the airport.
Two others that need mention are Frosty and Cranberry. I bought them as yearlings from the renowned Mel Potter Ranch in Marana, Arizona seven years ago, the year Rich and Jackie got married. Cranberry is a slug unless she is working a cow or making a heeling run. She loves her jobs and sees no reason to get excited unless she has work to do. Frosty is a great horse just to ride outside on the ranch, but she is a half-sister to Sherri Cervi’s world champion barrel horse, Stingray, so her career is pointing toward the rodeo arena.
Rockys Lil Gal - parade to the post
Richard Collins with Frosty
TJ and Lacey Dun in the pasture
Stormytiptop with Tyler Collins Cook
Stomytiptop holding a calf - C6 Ranch
Stormytiptop at Albuquerque USTRC
Richard on Cranberry at Sonoita Ranch Horse Compeition - 2010
Frosty, the barrel horse
Our cows had to be adapted to the rugged environment of the Canelo Hills in order to be productive. Fortunately our neighbor Tom Hunt on the Rail X Ranch had developed a breeding program of high-quality Red Angus cows bred to the smaller Red Brahman bulls. Their heifer calves were a smoky, red roan color, with long legs, rock-hardened feet, and carried the fifty percent Brahman blood that made them heat tolerant and willing to walk long distances to water.
Every year, Tom would sort through his calves and save to top end of the females for me. They were always the same price, a small premium over market, but more than worth the money. When bred back to a Red or Black Angus bull, they produced hardy five hundred pound calves at weaning time, always in high demand by feeder and stocker operations. When the Rail X was converted to a subdivision for house sites and ranchettes, Tom retired and we lost our source of replacement heifers. We filled the gap by keeping back the heifer calves we produced with our own cows.
Finding a source of rock-footed Angus bulls was also a big problem. At first, I tried McPhee Ranch in California, but the sissys got so tender-footed that they couldn’t find the cows. Later we found the U Bar Ranch in Gila, New Mexico who had country like ours. Environmental adaptation is crucial to productivity in cattle as well as horses, and I often think the same is true of people. The few times I've had to live in town, I didn't accomplish a whole lot.
Red brahman cow with calf
Pulling on a lose rein - Brent Cole Heeler
Richard and dogs moving cattle
Setting the fork prior to branding the calf
C6 Ranch and the Sonoita Community
In 1992 we purchased a ranch in the Canelo Hills of southern Arizona about five miles from the crossroads of Sonoita and moved our horse operation there. While Diane designed and built our house overlooking Mt Wrightson, I laid out the horse barn and started putting together the cattle ranch operation. Our range amounted to about 13,000 acres of rugged mountains and deep canyons located about twenty five miles from the Mexican border.
In 1998, we added the Seibold Ranch that brought Red Rock Canyon into our southern pastures. Red Rock Canyon is a live stream that had the endangered Gila topminnow living in it, and as such, was an area of critical environmental concern to the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The Red Rock Canyon watershed encompassed 51,000 acres that supported four cattle ranches, including ours, and we formed the Canelo Hills Coalition to deal with the problems of grazing in a habitat occupied by an endangered species.
The upshot was that over a period of about ten years, working with the Forest Service, we developed rotational grazing systems and new sources of water that meet the needs of both the ranchers and the fish. In 2005, the Collins Family Ranch was awarded Range Managers of the Year by the Society for Range Management (see picture). Also, the BLM and Forest Service riparian teams have used our grazing methods as a teaching example to their staff.
Conservation ranching is an important priority, and I have helped teach its principles in both local high school summer programs, at rancher workshops, and at the University of Arizona. The model I try to live by with respect to ranching and the environment is encapsulated in Wendell Berry’s aphorism “You cannot save the land apart from the people; in order to save either, you must save both.”
The Santa Cruz County Fair and Rodeo Association fairgrounds (see picture) is the social center of our community and Diane has been instrumental in its growth and operation for the past 20 years. She chaired the Quarter Horse show committee for 10 years, building it into the best little horse show in the Southwest. She also presided as President of the Anne C. Stradling Equine Foundation that funds horse activities and scholarships for young people from Santa Cruz County, Co-chaired the Racing Committee, organized the Ranch Horse Competition Committee, and helped raise hundreds of thousands of dollars as well as the enthusiasm needed to keep this all volunteer facility thriving.